Compassion & Perspective Makes a Difference

‘Window Dressing’ 2007 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, the city where I lived considered me a suicidologist and I was interviewed on television networks by reporters after someone killed themselves, especially if the individual was a teenager or younger.

The same major television network reporter frequently interviewed me and, we struck up a working friendship in spite of the traumatic circumstances. She was always very professional and directed her questions about what people can do to prevent suicides and how to help loved ones when a suicide occurred.

She was one of those reporters you probably have seen with her hair coiffed, perfect attire, attractive in the classic TV personality way, and always expressing a professional attitude. She had the ‘window dressing’ composure and style.

Uncharacteristically after one interview on camera, she pulled me aside away from the television crew.

“I don’t understand how someone can become so distressed and depressed that they want to kill themselves. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

I shared my thoughts behind the reasons that people can become so despondent that they view suicide as their only acceptible alternative.

“I don’t think I will ever understand how someone would throw away their life when there are always alternatives and possibilities with support to help them move forward in their life.”

I offered her my professional experiences working with people who had reached their mental and emotional limits and viewed suicide as their last resort. I could tell that she was unable to relate to their desperation and she was interpreting their behavior from a more intellectual perspective.

A few months later I was again interviewed by the same reporter after someone in the city committed suicide. She was as usual very professional and objective in her television interview questions, but I sensed something was different.

The interview took place in my backyard near where our horses lived, and she asked if we could walk around the paddock and away from the camera crew. I was curious about what she wanted to talk about, and I waited patiently as we silently walked together.

“I get it now. I understand how someone can reach such a level of despair that a person does not feel it’s possible to ever get past the feelings of desperation and helplessness.”

She then haltingly described a recent family situation that shook her to the core resulting in her feeling for the first time in her life suicidal. It was an amazing transformation of this always professional person who prided herself on perfection and control, now privately exhibiting her vulnerability in all of her honesty and sensitivity.

I supported her with compassion on moving beyond her traumatic reactions and finding ways to embrace the changes necessary so that she could move forward in the natural, grounded way.

The next time she came to interview me about a young person who had killed himself, I noticed that her interview approach was different. There was a depth of compassion and understanding that had not been there before. Her questions were more meaningful and her responses, while still professional, were more personal and thoughtful.

We never spoke about how she was different, and we didn’t need to have that discussion. It was a life transformed by trauma, compassion, and perspective. Every interview from that day on was embraced with the sparkle in her eye emerging from her soul and the partial smile that said it all.

 

 

Embracing New Adventures

They are packing and are moving to Cedaredge with me.

The end of this year and the beginning of the new year brings many adventurous changes in my life and hopefully for yours. I’ve always told friends that the only fear I have is remaining the same tomorrow as I am today. Perhaps, this is why I’ve been a risk-taker my entire life.

I’m moving very soon from Grand Junction, Colorado to my new mountain home in Cedaredge, Colorado where the Grand Mesa’s southern slopes meet the Uncompahgre and Gunnison River valleys. The charming mountain town offers friendly neighbors, orchards, and access to dozens of trout lakes. I love that the town has only one traffic signal and just a few historic downtown blocks of diverse small businesses.

Late fall brings bushels of apples on the town’s many trees. The large apple tree in my backyard brings dozens of deer to nibble on the apples. I look forward to connecting with them and taking some photographs to share. This past October, I attended the annual Applefest held at the Cedaredge Town’s Park within walking distance from my new home. Applefest brings over 20,000 people and it is free to attend. I had an amazing time visiting the over 200 vendors, wonderful music, and tasting the delicious food.

Cedaredge genuinely feels like stepping into a Hallmark movie with a sense of community, natural beautiful surroundings, and a wonderful quality of life. Yes, I know, I’m a hopeless romantic, and I do enjoy the Hallmark Christmas movies this time of year. I can believe in experiencing the magic of Christmas. Seriously, wouldn’t you want to have this pleasure? Moving to Cedaredge means I can have the pleasure all year long.  I believe in sharing community with compassion. Today I arranged to volunteer as a server for the Cedaredge Christmas dinner this year. Over 300 people are expected. The cost is a donation but not required. The dinner location is within walking distance of my new home.

Just 15 minutes or so from the town on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byways there are old-growth forests, aspens, meadows and 300 beautiful lakes that lead to the Grand Mesa mountain. I’m planning on taking countless color digital and black and white film photographs of wildlife and nature throughout the four seasons to share. This is one of the reasons I wanted to move to Cedaredge.

One immediate change is that I am honoring my values and principles and I am closing out my Facebook accounts effective today. For a while now, I have been concerned about the direction the Facebook company is moving. From the company’s reactions rather than responses to the community’s trust concerns, I do not believe that Facebook will institute necessary positive changes anytime soon. Nevertheless, I’ll share on this blog, the same positive posts I have on Facebook.

I am encouraging my supportive friends on Facebook to connect and follow me by registering on this blog. You’ll receive an email notice every time I share a new post on the blog. You can now view photographs that I have frequently posted on FB for many years on my photography website at Stephen Bruno Photography. My newest photographs are in the Recent Photo Shoot gallery. The benefit is rather than a select few images I’ve posted on Facebook, you can now see many more images from my photo shoot.

Next year is the time I plan to publish several novels, nonfiction books and poetry, and short stories that I’ve been working on for an eternity. Well, at least it seems that way. I know that I have more wrinkles, less hair, and more bags under my eyes than when I began these books. The beautiful charming mountain atmosphere, wild critters, and friendly people can contribute to my creativity and productivity.

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.

~Gilbert K. Chesterton 1874-1936, British Author

Not Exactly My Finer Moments.

Mallard Duck, 2016 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, I was the Publisher and Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine. Today I was sorting through some of my papers for better organization when I found a copy of the June 1992 issue of the magazine. It was a bit of nostalgia to look through Arizona Literary Review.

While looking at this June issue this morning, I valued high-quality literary, art, and photography that people submitted. When I created the magazine, I imagined that it would eventually reach across the country. I had no idea that people as far away as Paris, France would subscribe and send their submissions, including well-established authors.  As a writer, artist, and photographer It was a pleasure providing opportunities for contributors to be published, some for the first time. Decades later, I happened to meet a neighbor who reminded me that I published his photography in the first issue of the Arizona Literary Review. This visibility started his professional career, and he became a renown photographer.

I read an article in the issue that I wrote in my column, From the Publisher & Editor titled, I Fell in Love with Marie Antoinette, about imagination, creativity, and sometimes not taking ourselves too seriously. I would like to share this with you in my blog post as I believe there is still some relevance.

When we fall in love, I believe that the latent characters who normally reside passively within our psyche suddenly emerge. Our emotions intensify creating illusions of reality. Romantic songs play “just for us,” and the world revolves around our immediate needs and desires. You know the sense when the flowers are brighter, the air is crisper, and the birds sing sweeter.

With creativity, passion is also aroused and inhibited, equally often without satisfactory resolution. The quality of this relationship to creativity determines how we share our passion. Sometimes it is expressed by writing, photography, painting, dance, or music.

There are moments when I can recall a furtive glance by an inquisitive squirrel; the whooshing sound of wind embracing the tall pines; the distinctive aroma of summer blossoms, and cherished memories for a high school sweetheart. The haunting words and melodic rhythm of the 60s song, We got to get out of this place, revive the indelible melancholy and mania for my 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Then these memories vaporize just as suddenly.

My passion is to understand how this lingering tenderness in such sensorial experiences manifests itself in unrestricted drawing, painting, writing, and photography. I feel drawn into and captivated by this intimate involvement with my raw emotions in an undefined desire for creativity.

The arduous process of establishing an authentic relationship with creativity is an intimate, passionate process. Having our work published is a collective external experience. Poetry, fiction, photography, music, dance, and drama caress the heart soul and spirit. As an artist, writer, and photographer I appreciate the creative depth from others who also enjoy these mediums.

Relationships real or imagined are a wealth of resources for story, character, and plot development. Several years ago, I indifferently requested a book on Marie Antoinette through a popular book club. To my astonishment, I identified with her struggles, dreams, losses, adventures, letters, and trauma dramas.

I began writing a historical novel reflecting on the essence of Marie Antoinette.  The positive elements of her life and personality that are less known. Sometime during that year, I fell in love with Marie Antoinette and rediscovered my creative passion soon after I published the Arizona Literary Review. Many years earlier as Editor-Chief of my college newspaper I produced the weekly publications with great enthusiasm, but without as much passion.

I believe that we stimulate our inspiration when we experience the unusual in the familiar. In my thirties, at an airline terminal, I sketched on an imaginary drawing pad the divergence of passengers waiting to board a flight. I observed their mannerisms, conversations, and facial features which I committed to memory for later retrieval in one of my novels.

Startled out of my reverie of character sketching, I heard the last few words of my flight’s departure announcement in the loudspeaker. Reaching for my portable art bin, I remembered that the drawings and art supplies were imaginary.

Feeling chagrined, I hurried past all the passengers to the front of the line along the tarmac towards the America West Airlines aircraft so that I could get the window seat that I preferred. At that time no one had assigned seating. Unlike at many airports today, everyone walked along the tarmac and climbed the mobile stairs to board the aircraft.

Consumed with my recent creative energy and overly stimulated imagination, I climbed the portable stairs leading to the aircraft’s forward cabin ahead of the other passengers. On the aircraft at the top of the stairs, a uniformed Flight Attendant politely greeted me and asked to see my airline ticket. With a curious appraisal of me, she suggested that this was not the correct aircraft that I wanted. Trying to nurture me through my confused gaze, she said that the flight I wanted was on the other side of the aircraft.

With a slight half smile, she pointed to the last of the passengers on my flight who were on the tarmac walking to the other side of the aircraft. I couldn’t help myself I and asked if she was sure that this aircraft was not my flight. Once again, with a measure of infinite patience and smile, she said that she could assure me with absolute confidence that I was not going anywhere on this aircraft.

The Flight Attendant then gently handed me back my ticket and wished me a good flight. In addition to the previous concentration on my character sketching I had a couple of intense things in my life that needed some resolution, and I figured that being a bit distracted is understandable resulting in my attempting to board the wrong aircraft. I casually turned and noticed that the line of passengers was no longer on the tarmac.

I walked carefully down the steps trying to make sense of this unfamiliar experience until I reached the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps an intuition, I turned around and looked up at the top of the stairs. I noticed that the Flight Attendant was still standing by the door, and now with several other uniformed personnel who were all staring down at me.

With a Mona Lisa smile and the slight movement of her eyes looking to the left and down I finally realized why they all were so amused. With the sun gleaming off the aircraft I looked up and saw that the wing was empty where the engine should be. With a gleam in her eye, a nod, and a warm smile, the Flight Attendant placed her hand over her heart as if to say she understood and wished me well.

I was the last passenger to board the correct aircraft and ignoring all the passenger smiles and subdued laughter who had watched me climb up the stairs to an aircraft with no engine; I found an empty aisle seat. Yes, I was embarrassed by this careless attention to familiar detail but found the humor, nonetheless and I still do. I have since embraced the subtle and powerful influence of the familiar on writing, art, photography, and everyday life and the value of being able to laugh at ourselves.

Suspending judgment removes the shackles that inhibit who we truly are. A healthy sense of humor offers insight, humility, and tickles our judgments into a relaxed state in which curiosity offers a resolution.

When the plane landed, I was determined to make up for my faux pas by asking out a Flight Attendant who had been particularly warm and friendly to me during the flight. I was the last one off the aircraft, and as I walked along the hall toward the baggage claim, she met up with me and walked right alongside so close that we occasional brushed against each other.

Normally not too inhibited socially, I knew that before we reached the end of the hall where I needed to turn right, that I must ask her if she would be interested in sharing some time together, perhaps lunch. As we walked along, I looked at her, and she responded with a beautiful smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

I then without any apparent cognitive thinking asked if she knew what time it was. With a squint of her eye, she looked at my watch and told me the time.  We walked further in silence. What are you thinking, Bruno, I thought to myself? Soon we were going to reach the end of the hall, and I needed to turn right toward the baggage claim area, and she probably will go the opposite direction, and I only had a few moments to do better.

You can do this Bruno, I said to myself with confidence. I smiled, and she still smiled warmly back. Then, with a temporary mental fugue condition, I experienced an inexplicable state of altered consciousness and I asked her if she comes here often. I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth any more than she could. She just nodded in unconcealed disbelief and disappointment at just the moment when we reached the end of the hall and without another word she turned to the left, and I walked to the right to the baggage claim area.

Not exactly my finer moments. It does, however, demonstrate how deeply we can be connected in creative ways using our imagination so that we lose perspective of the present.

The next day I decided to visit one of the lakes in the forest to focus primarily on creativity, my love of nature and wildlife and to get grounded. That Sunday afternoon, I was sketching on my outdoor easel the variety of people and families who were fishing, hiking, boating, and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

Five beautiful Mallard Ducks swam across the placid lake purposefully to the shore in front of me.  In unison, they began a powerful song as they marched single file up the steep hill and gathered beside my easel looking at the sketch thoughtfully.

Now, this is what nature is all about I mused. I wanted to capture this moment of communion and remember it. I positioned my charcoal pencil on a new page of the drawing tablet to sketch the largest Mallard Duck who was posing quietly beside me as he watched me sketch him.

I could hear rippling of the water, children laughing, and the flutter of songbirds. With the warmth of the sun and a light breeze, it was a great day to be creative and enjoy nature, and have wildlife come right up to me to share this special time.

The largest Mallard Duck remained standing next to be me looking intently at my sketch of his portrait. I knelt on the ground, faced him, and looked directly into his eyes.  I verbally shared the idea of unconditional compassion, love, and harmony with nature and assured him that I subscribed to these philosophies and that I valued his participation with me. I told him that he and his family are welcome to visit with me any time I’m at the lake.

I mentioned that I was a wildlife photographer and how I loved to capture the essence of wildlife in my photographs. This monologue drew his deep attention and he cocked his head frequently occasionally looking up at me and then back to the sketch. Glancing briefly at his impassive companions who stood several feet away, he then fixed his eyes back on mine.

I accepted this gaze as his sensibility and mutual understanding, and I felt that lightheaded rush of compassion and enlightenment in my connection with one of nature’s own. It was one of those rare moments and insight into the wonders of the universe and the reverence for life.

And then he bit me.

Showdown at High Noon

The Year: The Wild West ’70’s.

The Location: In the middle of an empty, dusty wood deck outside an abode in the valley on the outskirts of a western town.

The Time: Nearing when the clock strikes high noon.

Years ago, I lived in California where I owned a mountain home in a rural area called the Valley of Enchantment. It certainly was enchanting for my Miniature Dachshund companion, Quincy. You may have previously read my blog posts about Quincy and his amazing adventures. By popular request, I am sharing another true tale.

The two-story structure had a wood deck that looked out the back door and wrapped around one side of the house above the basement, leading to stairs that climbed to the street.

One very cold crisp, winter afternoon I observed Quincy beginning his “afternoon constitutional” along the deck on the way to the stairs when he suddenly stopped and gazed up towards the road beyond my view.

I cautiously peeked around the corner behind him and observed a large Mastiff dog riding into view and stopping at the at the top of the stairs surveying the deck and Quincy with an intense stare. He may have been new in town but clearly, this Mastiff was no stranger to showdowns.

Dachshunds were bred to flush out Badgers and can be fearless with other animals. Nonetheless, Quincy was about a quarter of the size of this self-assured Mastiff and he was thoughtfully weighing his options.

They each found their center of gravity and squarely faced each other from a distance like gunslingers of the Old West.  From a decision to call the bluff and with an air of confidence, the Mastiff began to slowly and deliberately descend the first step of the stairs, leading straight to where Quincy firmly held his ground.

Then, both of them stepped forward five paces, their toenails clicking on the wood deck with every step, and locked in focused eye contact. Each of them must be thinking, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

Within a few heart-pounding minutes, the low deep growl of the Mastiff broke the silence. Nevertheless, Quincy stood his ground silently breathing heavily and bound by a personal code of honor to protect the homestead. It was difficult to tell who was standing their ground best for several minutes until the water vapor from the heavy exhaling cleared the cold air and I could once again see this stalemate.

Then, Bruno, (yes, I know, he was my namesake – and, trust me he never complained), my unusually large Great Dane, came from behind me unbeknown to Quincy locking eyes with the Mastiff who stood on the stails smaller by about a head.

Long seconds passed.

When the Mastiff slowly began backing up the stairs, Quincy became bolder and started growling with an occasional bark for good measure as he took small paces forward toward the stairs.

The Mastiff glanced at Quincy like the morsel he could be, but never losing eye contact with Bruno, who was so intimating that he didn’t need to move or to make a sound. I was curious to learn what was going to happen next. You can never predict what is going to happen in a showdown.

Taking advantage of the Mastiff’s sudden distraction, Quincy chased his adversary back up the remainder of the stairs and halfway down the road and out of town just as the clock strikes high noon.

When Quincy strode purposefully back to the deck seeing me standing there alone, his chest was so puffed out that I thought it might burst from pride. He may not have worn a ten-gallon hat or handcrafted boots with spurs but he walked like he was ten feet tall.

He never knew the influential support he received from Bruno. Nevertheless, from that day forward Quincy effectively chased away every big or small animal including a Black Bear cub, large dogs, deer, a family of Racoons, and a Coyote.  To watch the dramatic change in him, you’d think he was backed up by a pack of wolves. All that made the difference was his having belief in himself.

 

 

 

 

Cross Between a Saber-Tooth Tiger and a Fire-breathing Dragon

Stephen Bruno

When I was in the first grade in elementary school in East Los Angeles, I had a serious accident outside the classroom. My symptoms included a nosebleed, swelling, bruising, crooked nose, black eyes, trouble breathing and a “cracking” sound when touching my nose.

I was rushed to the hospital by the school nurse who had me hold an ice pack on my nose. In the ER the doctors examined me and diagnosed severe facial fractures that included a broken nose, a septal perforation, and a deviated septum. They decided that I required immediate surgery.

I was prepped for surgery, given a local anesthetic and quickly brought to the operating room. The surgical nurses positioned me on my back, and I remained awake for hours watching several otolaryngologists working on my nose. Whenever the local anesthetic wore off, I let them know, and they provided more help that I appreciated. The operation was all a surreal experience especially since I was only six years old.

After the lengthy and intensive operation, a surgical nurse and several orderlies brought me to a post-surgery recovery room for monitoring. A splint was made to hold the nasal tissues in place until it stabilized and to protect the nose from accidental bumps when I slept and help it heal normally.

The next day, the nurses brought me to a children’s ward for recovery. The ward was a large rectangular open room with many children my age and a little older lying in their beds. Thirteen years later I was reminded of this setting after being drafted and sharing a similar large room with wall-to-wall beds during Basic Training at Fort Ord, California. The doctors told me that I would remain in the ward until I began to heal for several days, weeks or longer.

The kids could tell by the bandages on my nose and the sterile strips of gauze hanging out of each nostril that I recently experienced nose surgery. Of course, after the anesthesia wore off, I was in a lot of pain and continued to receive pain medication and antibiotics during my stay on the ward.

I began to get to know each of the kids in the ward out of curiosity and the means of distraction from the ever-present pain. Eventually, I found out that each of the children in the ward had a terminal illness and most of them had lived on the ward for months and some longer. It didn’t take long for me to feel humbled by their tragic medical circumstances while I only had a broken nose that required healing. I didn’t know what my nose would look like after the surgery and recovery. However, I knew my life was not in imminent or probable danger from the nose fracture.

I was very impressed with each of the kids and how they handled the challenges of immense pain, isolation from their family, countless medical tests, and insufferable boredom. I learned a lot about myself and other people that have lasted a lifetime from this experience that transcended the surgical trauma and recovery.

When finally, I was released from the hospital and sent home for more weeks of recovery, everyone in the children’s ward including the nurses shared a heartfelt sendoff. It was a bittersweet time given that some child abuse issues were waiting for me when I returned home.

During my recovery at home, there was still considerable bruising as well as swelling, and I had to make sure that my head was elevated, especially when sleeping or lying down to prevent further or prolonged swelling of the nose. I had to continue with the long strips of gauze hanging down out of my nostrils to soak up the blood. I imagined looking like a cross between a Saber-Tooth Tiger and a fire-breathing dragon. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids and especially some of the boys I talked with the most.

I still have a deviated septum, and my nose never quite looked the same. I have received comments like, “Your nose is an interesting conversation piece.” Although I am uncertain of exactly what that means, I have gracefully adopted my new nose.

After more of my recovery, I gathered up all my classic plastic green army men soldiers with a few military vehicles and accessories. I asked my mom to take me back to the children’s ward and wait in the lobby. Talking with the nurses who kindly remembered me, I was sad to hear that some of my newfound friends had died from their illness since I last saw them. It was too heartbreaking to give the toys in person, so I arranged with the nurses to anonymously share the gifts with my remaining friends and to see that everyone received something to sustain their playfulness during the countless boredom.

Frequently over the years, I’ve thought a lot about my time on that ward and each of the kids. We shared life and death conversations only young children with a terminal illness can have. It certainly puts into perspective the traumas that we must face when we think of what others must endure, and I began to embrace unconditional compassion as a lifestyle to the best of my capacity.

Compassion on a Lonely Road at Midnight

2018 © Stephen Bruno

I am old enough and well-traveled to have earned every wrinkle in my face, bags under my eyes, scars on my body, silver in my hair, and nose marks from my eyeglasses frames. Sometimes I feel that I am living the life within the novel, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

My curiosity has guided me to diverse paths from pleasure to pilgrimage. Each journey brought wonderment. I have lived and worked in diverse areas including Sedona, Arizona; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; San Luis Obispo, California; Crestline, California; Monterey, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Ashland, Oregon; the Oregon Coast; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Truches, New Mexico; Reno, Nevada; Austin, Texas; Prescott, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Grand Junction, Colorado and more.

I have lived on an island, in the low and high deserts, at the top of an 8,000-foot mountain, next to the ocean, on a boat, in forests, in houses or apartments, in a mobile home, by lakes, in big cities, small towns, and rural areas.

About seven months ago I decided to begin another journey. I drove my recently purchased car from Prescott, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado to look for a house to rent. Sight unseen, I selected Grand Junction for my belief in the friendly people, amazing wildlife, and beautiful nature. I wanted a new area to explore and photograph while I taught Reiki certification classes, provided telephone Life Coaching sessions, and taught wildlife and nature photography. I especially wanted a location where I could complete my novels and nonfiction books and prepare them for publication.

It was time to visit the city of my next home. I got up early, and after driving about eight hours, I arrived in Grand Junction and briefly looked around the area. I immediately felt that this would be home. I checked into a comfortable hotel and quickly fell asleep. Early the next morning I met with a real estate agent at a house for rent that I found online while in Prescott. Time was of the essence, and I knew I still had another 8 hours’ drive back the next morning to complete packing for my relocation.

I received a quick tour of a ranch-style 3-bedroom house on an acre, and I decided to rent it without looking further. I spent the remainder of the day exploring Grand Junction and getting a sense of what would become my new home in a few short weeks. I stayed that night at the hotel and drove the eight hours back to Prescott early the next morning.

Several weeks later I planned on driving back to Grand Junction. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. The people I hired to load the truck in Prescott arrived several hours late which meant that by the time I got on the road I’d be lucky to arrive in Grand Junction by 3 AM. Although a good friend of mine would follow me later that night in a rental truck with the bulk of my belongings, I also thoroughly packed my midsized car with electronics, clothes and fragile items. The plan was to sleep that night at a hotel in Grand Junction and meet my friend with the truck in the morning to unpack at my new home.

This third trip was a drive I was familiar with even though much of it was during the late evening on roads void of many vehicles, towns or houses. I listened to music, audiobooks, talk radio, and old-time radio dramas. The only brief stops were at gas stations to fill up the car and get a quick snack I could safely eat while driving.

Around midnight I was driving along an isolated area in a different state with only the dark road and radio for companionship. I was enjoying a snack, thinking about how tired I was and contemplating how much farther I had to drive. Nonetheless, I was excited about living in a new area where I didn’t know anyone and had only briefly visited, and especially the wonderful adventures ahead of me.

Suddenly, my vehicle’s high beam headlights illuminated the highway patrol car parked on the other side of the two-way road, facing the way I came. I held my breath and reluctantly glanced at my speedometer. Oh Man! Was I way over the speed limit! I removed my foot from the gas pedal and waited for the inevitable flashing red lights. I didn’t have long to wait, and with resignation, I pulled off the road.

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And, There She Was

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Running a high school varsity cross country race. I always ran barefoot.

Many years ago, when I was vegan, I ran sixteen miles nearly every day while living in Phoenix, Arizona. I would run from my home along the city streets until I reached the canals. Most of my run on the canal was solitary. I was at the peak of my physical capability, even better than in high school and college.

One day it was about 118° and extremely high humidity. I thought I would be okay to run as I had found a great way to stay hydrated. I would wear light running shorts and T-shirt along with the best running shoes I could afford. I wore a dual pack of water bottles strapped to my lower back. I would freeze the water bottles overnight, so they remained frozen during the early portion of my run. At the hottest portion of the day after I had run quite a bit, the water gradually began to melt and remained cold or at least cool until the water ran out. It was a great system overall except for this day when it was exceptionally hot, and I was still on the canal when the water became lukewarm.

I was not that concerned since I was in excellent shape and completed twelve of my usual sixteen miles. I was enjoying a runner’s high as my pre-frontal and limbic regions (which light up in response to emotions like love) spewed out endorphins. I was in great spirits after leaving the canal and heading toward the city and home.  There was a dirt area between trees in a part of the city where a lot of people walked, biked, and jogged the shady path. I always enjoyed this area after leaving the isolated canal.

Reminiscent of my high school varsity track and cross-country and college days of competitive races, I easily passed each person on the path.  Although a few people attempted to keep up with me, I easily left them behind while smiling or sharing a greeting. I continued this even though I knew I still had about four miles to reach home.

I felt invincible and thrilled with my run. I was beginning to pass a young woman probably around my age which would’ve been around 30. She looked in pretty good shape and was jogging easily. I planned to run by her quickly, look over my left shoulder and smile as I left her far behind me. I increased my speed until we were shoulder to shoulder and added a greater stride as I moved easily past her. I looked over my left shoulder to nod and smile as I quickly increased the distance. And there she was.

She was running shoulder to shoulder with me and not giving me any attention as she just quietly looked straight ahead. Like me, she was hardly breathing and jogged effortlessly. Momentarily surprised, I thought that it would be fun to pick up the pace and of course, leave her ‘in the dust’ as I did with the previous people. I increased my pace to an even faster jog and contentedly looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was.

She looked forward without acknowledging me.  She ran at exactly my pace not faster, not slower and shoulder to shoulder. I thought how cool this was to have found a confident, playful person who wanted to race. Nonetheless, it was time to pick up the pace considerably and even though I had run 12 of my ultimately 16 miles I thought it was time to make my move.

I picked up the pace, so I was no longer jogging I was now running. I thought the woman couldn’t possibly be keeping up with me as we were covering more and more distance. I looked over my shoulder. And, there she was.

She looked as calm and relaxed as I was as if she was going for a leisurely jog in the country. Again, she didn’t look over at me, and we made no eye contact although running shoulder to shoulder we occasionally touched each other depending on our stride, the uneven ground, and the people heading toward us on the somewhat narrow path.

At this time the people that we passed and those that were walking or jogging towards us gave us a lot of room and watched us intently. I could tell from the look in their eyes that they were wondering what they were observing as we were running exactly shoulder to shoulder not acknowledging each other and gradually exponentially increasing our speed. I knew that this path had a long stretch before it finally came to two main city streets with signals.

Even though I knew that I still had a way to go on this particularly warm day I decided to go beyond the fast run and draw on my ‘secret’ racing capabilities,  sprinting. I felt I had the endurance. Although she seemed to keep up with me easily thus far, I thought that this would make the difference.

By this point, I was sprinting fast and easily. People we passed seemed to be in awe of what they were observing as we blew by them. I thought there was no need to look over my shoulder because she would not be able to maintain this pace. But you know how it is, I just couldn’t help myself. I glanced over quickly. And, there she was.

She was exactly shoulder to shoulder with me and looking ahead rather comfortably while matching my sprinting. I couldn’t believe it. I thought who is she, is she a professional runner? Is she an Olympic competitor? Somehow I knew she was having as much pleasure as I was in our spontaneous competition.

Together we realized that we were rapidly approaching the intersection of two main city streets and at our speed, we would either skid to a stop somehow or risk running through a potential red light. Either way, we would be in trouble. Nevertheless, neither of us slowed down.

Reminding me of my best races, I pushed myself even more. I was now sprinting so fast it felt like my feet never touched the ground. I could barely focus on the people that we passed who appeared in a haze. This time, with confident assurance I knew that when I looked over my left shoulder that finally, she would not be present. While now sprinting on the top of my toes I casually looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was!

How could this be I thought? I had never met anyone who demonstrated this capability and did it was such finesse. We both were sprinting about as fast as we could go still shoulder to shoulder when we came to the main city cross streets. It reminded me of the 1958 novelty song, “Beep Beep” by The Playmates. It was about a Nash Rambler and a Cadillac racing each other. Click on this link to hear the song. Caddy & Nash Rambler

Neither of us could or would stop so we ran through the red light somehow dodging the cars and made it to the opposite corner still shoulder to shoulder. In a way it was exhilarating, and if we had not been running that fast, I don’t think we could have navigated the vehicles. I still remember the wide-eyed stares from the drivers as we both weaved through the traffic lanes.

Somehow we both sensed that the time to continue the run was over as we each changed to a stationary jog. For the first time, we faced each other. Looking into each other’s eyes communicating numerous things without saying a word.  With a shrug, I pointed to the direction I had to go, and with a mutual shrug, the woman pointed to the opposite direction. This mysterious woman shared a Mona Lisa smile and we each turned away from one another to continue our run.

Neither of us needed to make it more than what it was because the connection we had nonverbally was about as powerful it could be under the circumstances. I learned a lot from that experience, and I have shared what happened with her in the workshops seminars and retreats that I have given. There are subtle messages to be gained from the story.

Whenever I closed my eyes and relieved the experience, I looked over my left shoulder and smiled. And, there she was.